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Cordell Hull’s Historic Blunder – A Primer on the Failure of Leadership

This installment of my series on leadership and success is excerpted from my new book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover-Up – A True Account of How a Partisan Congress Misled the American People on the Pearl Harbor Attack,December 7. 1941. Featuring Historic Lessons on the Failure of Leadership to Foresee the Attack and to Avert War with Japan.” It is available on Amazon.

On November 26, 1941, Secretary of State Cordell Hull stood at the gates of history, a step away from becoming a diplomatic legend. What followed instead was catastrophic. Hull’s failure to avoid the unspeakable horrors of war with Japan and its enormous consequences is described in the book. It was a war marked by a devastating human toll and immense financial costs. Hull’s aborted November 1941 diplomatic efforts in abandoning the modus vivendi proposal to Japan for a 3-month truce is a lesson in the failure of accountability for all those who aspire to leadership, for no one can become a successful leader without being fully accountable for her/her actions.  This failure, marked by Hull’s admission that he was turning the whole thing over the the Army and Navy, effectively amounted to his “throwing in the towel.”  It was a total failure in accountability for America’s top diplomat, a failure to follow through and explore all avenues for peace, played out on a world scale.  His unfortunate lack of vision at this most crucial moment in history may stamp him as one of the most shortsighted, even incompetent, secretaries of state to ever hold office.

The scuttling of the modus vivendi and the substitution of Hull’s November 26 memorandum, considered by the Japanese to be an ultimatum, was followed 11 days later by the attack on Pearl Harbor, a result it may be observed, consonant with the Administration’s previously adopted policy of waiting for Japan to strike the first blow.  This course of events may never have come to pass had there been vision by Hull in those dark days of November, 1941.  There was simply too much at stake in terms of averting the prospect of total war not to have fully explored all possible avenues of peace.

The onus for Hull’s failure also falls on President Roosevelt for not following through on his hand written blue print for a modus vivendi which had been personally delivered to Hull some days earlier, likely on November 20 after receiving the Japanese proposal on that date.

A press release was issued by the White House on December 1, 1943, following a conference in North Africa attended by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.  The press release stated in part that, “The Three Great Allies expressed their resolve to bring unrelenting pressure against their brutal enemies by sea, land and air…The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan… It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped … of all territories she has taken by violence and greed…With these objects in view the Three Allies…will continue to persevere in the serious and prolonged operations necessary to procure the unconditional surrender of Japan.”   This press release constituted mute evidence of the daunting task faced by the Allies in 1943 in fighting the war with Japan.

Arnold G. Regardie

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President Roosevelt’s Failure to Heed Intelligence Alerts About Pearl Harbor Was Significant

This installment of my leadership and success series is excerpted from my forthcoming book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover-Up.”  It illustrates the need for effective leadership to timely and accurately evaluate information intercepted from hostile sources.  The book is based in large part on the July 20, 1946 congressional report of a 10-member joint congressional committee, comprised of 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans, which investigated the December 7, 1941 attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.  The report, by an 8-2 vote (the Majority), exonerated President Roosevelt and other high ranking Washington officials of responsibility for the attack.   The two dissenters (the Minority) argued that, inter alia, President Roosevelt’s failure to heed the “bomb plot” intelligence alerts which forecast Pearl Harbor as a target were largely responsible for the unpreparedness of the United States for the attack.

Beginning September 24, 1941, several intercepted and decoded secret Japanese war plans messages indicated ships in Pearl Harbor were marked for attack; little information was passed on to Hawaiian commanders. The September 24, 1941 “Bomb Plot Message” and other related messages which followed it, revealed detailed information about Japan’s strategic interest in Pearl Harbor. The message was delivered to President Roosevelt and other high Washington officials on October 9, 1941.  The intercepted September and November 1941 “Bomb Plot” messages were of singular importance in revealing Japan’s intentions to target Pearl Harbor for an attack.

One of the Joint Committee members, Representative Frank Keefe (R-WI), described the relevance of the messages clearly and precisely: “The “bomb plot” or “ships in harbor” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack. No other American harbor was divided into sub areas by Japan. In no other area did Japan seek information as to whether two or more vessels were alongside the same wharf. Prior to this message Japanese espionage in Hawaii was directed to ascertain the general hereabouts of the American Fleet, whether at sea or in port. With this message Japan inaugurated a new policy directed to Pearl Harbor and to no other place, in which information was no longer sought merely as to the general whereabouts of the Fleet, but as to the presence of particular ships in particular areas of the harbor. In the period immediately preceding the attack Japan required such reports even when there was no movement of ships in and out of Pearl Harbor. The reports which Japan thus sought and received had a useful purpose only in planning and executing an attack upon the ships in port. These reports were not just the work of enthusiastic local spies gathering meticulous details in an excess of zeal. They were the product of instructions emanating from the government of Japan in Tokyo. Officers of the high command in Washington have admitted before us that this message, if correctly evaluated, meant an attack on ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.”

The two dissenting Senators put it quite succinctly:  “The probability that the Pacific Fleet would be attacked at Pearl Harbor was clear from the “bomb plot” available in Washington as early as October 9, 1941, and related Japanese messages…The “bomb plot” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack.  No other American harbor was divided into subareas by Japan.  And no other American harbor had such a large share of the fleet to protect…On October 9th, 1941… Lieutenant Commander Kramer of Naval Intelligence in Washington promptly distributed the “bomb plot” message to the President, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Director of Naval Communications, the Director of War Plans, and the Director of Naval Intelligence…”

Interestingly, buried in enumeration No. 10 of Supervisory, Administrative, and Organizational Deficiencies in the Military and Naval Establishments Revealed by the Pearl Harbor Investigation, as reported by the Committee members voting with the Majority, was the following remarkable finding, not only clearly revealing the Majority’s inconsistency but underscoring the highly important intelligence referred to above: “Washington and Hawaii possessed unusually significant and vital intelligence.  Had greater imagination and a keener awareness of the significance of intelligence existed, concentrating and applying it to particular situations, it is proper to suggest that someone should have concluded that Pearl Harbor was a likely point of Japanese attack.”

This was a telling admission by the Majority, that the lack of greater imagination and awareness of the significance of the intelligence in the hands of Washington and Hawaii caused the intercepted messages not to have been interpreted to signify that an attack on Pearl Harbor was being planned.  It was as close as the Majority came to admitting that the attack on Pearl Harbor was foreseeable, as the Minority claimed.  Note that the Majority failed to specify exactly what information was in the hands of Hawaii which led to this conclusion, because the record before the Committee showed that Hawaii had no such information.  That leaves unspecified personnel in Washington as being responsible for the lack of imagination and awareness.

The Minority’s summary of those civil and military authorities failing to perform the responsibilities indispensably essential to the defense of Pearl Harbor lists President Roosevelt at the top.  Undoubtedly, the President’s apparent failure to be alert as to the significance of the “bomb plot” messages was in large part at the heart of this summary.

Arnold G. Regardie

 

 

 

 

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FIND MOTIVATION

This week’s installment of our leadership and success series focuses on motivation as playing a vital role in becoming a leader as well as in the attainment of success. We turn to one of baseball’s greatest players – Ty Cobb, nicknamed “The Georgia Peach” for his small town beginnings in Royston, Georgia , to exemplify this rule.

Some pundits will argue that Ty Cobb was the greatest player of all time. Cobb had the stats to back it up and, considering his storied, combative nature, was apparently willing to do so. Not to turn this blog into a statistical haven but certain stats do deserve mention. Cobb won the American League batting crown 12 times, including 9 years running, from 1907 through 1915. He batted over.400 three times, including .420 in 1911. He hit, ran, and stormed his way to the highest lifetime batting average ever achieved of any major league player, .367, accumulated over his 24 years in the Major Leagues, a record that still endures following his retirement in 1928 and will likely continue to endure for many more years. The charter edition of baseball’s hall of fame in 1936 saw Cobb, one of the 5 players to be elected, receive the highest votes cast for induction, four short of unanimity, even outpolling Babe Ruth.

Cobb was extraordinarily talented, but the woods are full of talented derelicts. So, what made him achieve his greatness? Undoubtedly, it was his motivation. Earlier in Cobb’s life, his father, William Herschel Cobb, had been strongly skeptical of his son’s pursuit of baseball as a living, demeaning it as “the folly of baseball.” But he ultimately relented to his son’s entreaties accompanied by the stern admonition, “Don’t come home a failure.” This warning seems innocuous enough. But the development of extenuating circumstances which beset him later on the eve of his departure to the major leagues undoubtedly played a major part in his motivation to succeed.

Cobb had been an outstanding minor league player while playing for the Augusta, Georgia Tourists in the South Atlantic or ”Sally” League, among the lower echelons of the minor leagues. His play was duly noted, however, by scouts of major league teams that frequented his games. Ultimately, his contract was purchased by the American League’s Detroit Tigers for $700 and he was scheduled to report in late August, 1905.

But the pall of a horrific family tragedy engulfed him at home and shadowed him to Detroit. Cobb’s mother had shot his father to death only a short time earlier, on August 8, 1905. His mother, a pretty woman, had been suspected of taking a lover. His father, attempting to enter a bedroom window of their home, was shot gunned by his mother who apparently believed it was a burglar attempting to break in. A revolver was later found on the body. Cobb’s mother, later charged with voluntary manslaughter, was acquitted. On August 30, 1905, a mere three weeks after his father’s death, Cobb debuted in center field for the Detroit Tigers, rapping a double in four trips to the plate off the New York Highlanders’ (officially renamed The New York Yankees in 1913) ace spitballer, Jack Chesbro, who had won an amazing 41 games the year before. It was the first of 3,032 games for Cobb before his 1928 retirement.

Noted writer Charles C. Alexander wrote that after retirement Cobb claimed his father was the greatest man he ever knew. And Cobb’s biographer, Al Stump, wrote that at his request, after death, he was entombed in the family mausoleum in Royston, Georgia, where it all began, in a chamber directly across from his father’s.

Cobb’s relentless pursuit of success in baseball may well have grown out of the close relationship he had enjoyed with his father, but he was undoubtedly also driven by the haunting memories of his father’s tragic and untimely death, all of which provided a special motivation for him. Whatever the source, strong motivation clearly plays a key role for anyone aspiring to success as a leader.

Watch for my new book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover Up”, coming soon.  It will feature leadership failures at the highest level of government.
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Arnold G. Regardie

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ABUSE OF POWER

This is the premier installment of my new weekly series on leadership and success.  It features a cardinal rule for anyone aspiring to leadership – avoid abuse of power at all costs.

This installment focuses on the actions of past President Harry S. Truman, who, as Vice President, succeeded to the presidency following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945.  Truman issued executive orders in 1945 restricting potential information available to a congressional committee investigating the Pearl Harbor attack. These actions, rarely if ever seen before or since by a sitting president, reflected a total disregard for the separation of powers doctrine embedded in our Constitution.  This committee had been authorized by a joint congressional resolution to undertake an investigation of the December 7, 1941 attack by Japanese air and naval forces on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Truman’s unconstitutional actions left Americans still searching for the complete truth as to responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attack.

The deep shock of the unexpected attack stunned the country and spawned an intense nationwide controversy.  Swept by anger and outrage, the country demanded an answer to the overriding question: why had a great country like the United States been so totally blindsided by the Japanese?   In response, on September 11, 1945, by concurrent resolution, Congress authorized a Joint Committee to investigate the attack and the events and circumstances relating thereto.  The ten-member Joint Committee, five Senators and five Representatives, released its report to the public on July 20, 1946.  In an apparent effort to preserve nonpartisanship, six Democrats, (the maximum authorized by the concurrent resolution), and four Republicans comprised the committee’s political makeup.

The totality of the Joint Committee Report, reached by an 8-2 vote, cannot be completely appreciated without considering the views of the two dissenters, Senator Homer Ferguson, (R-MI) and Senator Owen Brewster, (R-ME)   Their views, although contained in the original Report, were largely downplayed by the print media when the Report was released.  It essentially absolved President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other high ranking Washington officials and military and naval commanders in the field of responsibility for the attack.  But the two dissenting members, in a fully documented 87-page opinion, thoroughly denounced the Report, including its partisanship.

The dissenters reached 21 conclusions of fact and responsibility respecting the evidence before the Joint Committee.  The extensive factual support for their views, based entirely on evidence adduced by the Joint Committee, minimizes any argument that they were merely the product of a partisan attack.  Their final conclusion, that President Roosevelt and other high ranking Washington officials  and military commanders knew, or in the exercise of due diligence, should have known, that Pearl Harbor would be attacked and failed to perform those responsibilities indispensably essential to its defense, deserves serious consideration.

The two dissenting members targeted several aspects of the final report for strong criticism.   They reserved their undoubtedly most scathing attack on the Report for the restrictions imposed by President Truman’s executive orders on potential investigative information otherwise available to the Joint Committee.

Here is the chronology.  On August 28, 1945, President Truman issued an executive order severely limiting the Joint Committee’s power to gain access to the full facts by denying release to the public, except with specific approval of the President in each case, of information relating to status, technique, procedures, results, or degree of success of any “crytptanalytic (sic)” unit of the Government.    A second order followed on October 23, 1945.  Although the President’s new order modifying the first order was less stringent, the Minority objected that this modification left much to be desired because it was limited to the State, War, and Navy Departments and relaxed the secrecy of records only so far as the Joint Committee was concerned while continuing to impose restrictions for individual members, even when accompanied by Committee counsel.  This order also contained the unfortunate phrase, “any information in their possession material to the investigation” (emphasis in original), which provided a cloak for those reluctant to yield requested information.  No subsequent modifying order wholly removed those restrictions.

A November 7, 1945, Truman order relaxed restraints on executives of the Government in order that they may speak freely to individual members of the Committee, but it also closed with the admonition,  “This does not include any files or written material.”

The dissenters viewed these executive orders as tantamount to thrusting an “iron curtain” over the investigation. Truman’s successive efforts to soften the effect of the restrictions suggest that he had second thoughts about issuing them in the first place.  In any event his efforts were not totally effective as the dissenters pointed out.

The following quotation emphasizes significant aspects of the dissenters’ criticism of Truman’s restrictions:

“It was not until October 23, 1945, that President Truman made the [original] order less stringent by a new order.  The modification left much to be desired…By one way or another, control over papers, records, and other information remained in the hands of the majority [Democratic] party members…The relaxation of restraints was often publicized while the continuing qualifications were but little discussed.  The effect was to restrict individual members of the committee in practice while the appearance of their freedom of operations was held out to the public.”

Truman’s actions stand out as most troublesome, amounting in effect to a presidential cover-up of potentially revealing facts about the attack.  Truman of course had ample motivation to cover up information suggesting President Roosevelt may have had advance knowledge of the attack.  It was Roosevelt who agreed to place Truman on the national ticket as vice-presidential candidate in 1944.  Truman, thus, would not have become president but for Roosevelt.

The Minority had strong reasons to complain about President Truman’s restrictions, which effectively negated investigative completeness. They stand out as a clear abuse of executive power.  The specter of a sitting President restricting a congressional investigation into an issue as vitally important to the American people as the Pearl Harbor attack is unparalleled. The restrictions Truman imposed on the investigation provide an apt leadership lesson, i.e., avoid abuse of power.  His actions raise serious doubts as to whether the whole truth about Pearl Harbor will ever be known.  His presidential reputation remains forever tainted.

This opening installment is based on my forthcoming book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover Up.   A True Account of How A Democratic Congress Misled the American People on the Pearl Harbor Attack, December 7. 1941. Featuring Historic Lessons on the Failure of Leadership to Foresee the Attack, and to Avert War With Japan.”

Arnold G. Regardie

 

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